Pope Calls on Libyan Leaders to Protect Civilians

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI made an urgent appeal to political and military leaders to protect the safety and security of civilians and guarantee the free flow of humanitarian aid inside Libya.

He said the “worrying news from Libya” in the past few days caused him “deep trepidation and fear,” and he kept the North African country’s people in his prayers during his Lenten retreat March 13–19.

Speaking to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square March 20 for the recitation of the Angelus, the pope said, “I address a pressing appeal to those who have political and military responsibilities” to ensure the safety and security of defenseless citizens as well as guarantee those offering emergency assistance have access to those in need.

As U.S., British and French military began a series of strikes against Libya’s air defenses March 19 as part of a U.N.–approved effort to protect pro-democracy protesters from retaliation by Col. Moammar Gadhafi, the pope said he was following the events with great concern and praying for those involved in “the dramatic situation.”

He prayed that “peace and concord would soon reign over Libya and the entire North African region.”

Meanwhile, Bishop Giovanni Martinelli of Tripoli, Libya, criticized the rash and hasty decision to use military action against Gadhafi rather than pursue a negotiated solution.

“I hope for (Gadhafi’s) surrender, but I think that Gadhafi will not give in,” he told the Italian news agency, ANSA, March 20.

The bishop said he is familiar with the Libyan leader’s personality and past behavior and believes the use of military force against him will only intensify the severity of Gadhafi’s reaction.

He said allowing foreign troops to launch a military offensive against Gadhafi “has given the go-ahead to the wrong strategy;” he said more could have been done in seeking a diplomatic or negotiated solution to the crisis.

“Violence only brings violence,” he said.

The Italian bishop said he had been working to mediate the crisis through a Libyan-funded interreligious organization called the World Islamic Call Society, but that the launch of military strikes cut short his attempts.

“The military action was too hasty, too sudden,” he said.

Bishop Martinelli told Fides, news agency of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, March 21, “War does not solve anything.”

He said he “spoke with the bishop of Tunis to see if they can accept them, given that on their side of the border there are international humanitarian aid organizations.”

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